Ethnic Truth and Modern Greek History

David Brewer shows that while ‘ethnic truth’ does little to explain history, history does much to explain ‘ethnic truth’

In his 1961 book The Dilessi Murders Romilly Jenkins told the story of the murder of three English aristocrats and an Italian nobleman near Athens in 1870, and the international repercussions which followed. A chapter was devoted to the concept of ‘ethnic truth’. According to this, wrote Jenkins, ‘the modern Greek was at once the spiritual heir of all the splendid intellectual endowments of the classical age, and the political heir of all the vast pretensions, both religious and imperial, of Byzantium’. From the first he derived his genius and culture, from the second his natural right and fitness to resume empire over all the nations of the eastern Mediterranean; and ‘from both his evident superiority, in intellect and capacity, over the members of any other race’. It followed that his conduct was above reproach, and his country a paragon of order and enlightenment. But, Jenkins went on, this ideal picture bore no relation to the actual Greece of 1870, a country economically weak and impotent in foreign affairs, its inhabitants doubtfully descended from the ancient Greeks, its countryside infested with brigands, and its politicians corrupt.

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